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⚠️Trigger Warning: eating disorders, the holiday season
Thanksgiving can be difficult in eating disorder recovery. Between the family interactions, the focus on food, and the social activity, it was never an easy weekend to get through for me.
Here are some tips and things to remember that have helped me and will hopefully also help you get through Thanksgiving and other similar holidays to come…
Tips for Surviving Thanksgiving while in Eating Disorder Recovery
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1. Be kind to yourself; it’s okay if Thanksgiving is hard
This is something I battle with a lot: giving myself permission to struggle. It’s okay if you find this holiday particularly difficult. Struggling doesn’t mean you are weak or less capable. It also doesn’t mean you are “moving backwards” or not far enough along. Holidays are difficult for everyone and Thanksgiving, in particular, is rough when you’re in recovery. There is no shame in admitting to yourself (and others) if you are having a hard time. It’s completely normal.
Acknowledging the struggle is important because it will allow you to take steps and make choices that will help you prioritize self-care and get through.
2. Don’t engage in conversations you don’t want to be a part of
You have the power to say no. Thanksgiving dinner and similar events can be difficult with everyone talking about food and diets. Family members often mean well, yet still can say things that are harmful or triggering. Perhaps an aunt started a new diet and she wants to tell you all about it, or a cousin wants to dive into the “food guilt” game after dessert. All of these conversations are likely to take place. That being said, you don’t need to engage in any of them.
There is nothing wrong with saying politely (or even firmly), No.
Here are a few ways to end or divert a conversation that is going in a direction you’re not comfortable with:
- “I’d prefer to not discuss ____ right now.”
- “I have a bad history with dieting, so I choose to not talk about it.”
- “I don’t weigh myself and don’t like to talk about weight or weight loss.”
- “I’m currently recovering from an eating disorder and so I don’t engage in conversations about ______.”
- “I respect your interest in talking about ____ (i.e. diets); however, I can’t engage in the conversation because of my own personal struggles with dieting/an eating disorder.”
- “I’m sorry, but I’m not comfortable talking about ____. I’d love to talk about something else, though.”
- Sometimes I’ll even do something as simple as not acknowledging a food shame/diet/weight loss comment, or I just shrug it off with “yeah that’s not really an indicator of health, anyways” or “I don’t really play the food guilt game.”
When all else fails, pull a 180 and change the subject entirely. Typically current events or topics related to newly released movies or TV shows are an effective way of doing this.
Here is a video with some additional tips for handling triggering conversations:
3. Step away as often as you need to (and breathe!)
This is something I do a lot. Group events like Thanksgiving take a lot of energy out of me (introverts, rise!) and can sometimes cause anxiety. If your mind is getting away from you, a conversation left you shaken, or in general, it’s just too much all at once, step away.
The best and easiest place to do this is the bathroom, as you’ll get the most privacy.
However, the porch, your car, or an empty room will do the trick. Sometimes if there’s a dog or a cat, I will go hang out with it for a while–animals can bring a sense of calm and people don’t tend to see you as anti-social; they just figure you’re an animal-lover.
Wherever you choose to go, remember to take a few minutes to do some breathing.
Here is a breathing technique I learned from a yoga therapist:
The official name for it is “Nadi Shodhana” and there are lots of how-tos online. I find most of the directions difficult, so here is the simple way I was taught:
(using the right hand, reverse if you are using left)
- Make a fist and extend your pinky finger and thumb (known as the “shaka” or “hang loose/ten” sign)
- Press your pinky gently against your left nostril to close it
- Breath in deeply through your right nostril, pause for a second
- Release your pinky to open your left nostril and press your thumb against your right nostril to close it
- Breath out through your left nostril
- Keep the position, and breath in through your left nostril
- Close the left nostril with your pinky again, release your thumb and breath out through your right nostril
- Repeat as many times as you want
You can really use whichever hand and fingers feel most comfortable (some prefer thumb and index fingers) as long as you are following the pattern: in right, out left, in left, out right
This image via pauseplayescapes.com should help you remember:
4. Remember that you have a choice regarding how you respond to triggers
Let’s normalize being triggered for a second. Though everyone’s triggers are different, in eating disorder recovery often our triggers overlap. Being surrounded by food, social events revolving around eating, talk of food shame and diets, and overall family drama can all shake us. It is completely normal for these things to trigger your mind into negative thinking patterns.
What’s important is not whether or not you are triggered; what’s important is how you respond if you are.
Remember, you have a choice. You are not out of control. Acknowledge the struggle, step away, regroup, call a friend/accountability buddy, and move on. It’s not always as simple as it sounds, but it’s also not as difficult as it may seem.
Remember, in each moment you have the power of choice regarding how you will act.
5. If you slip up, do “the next right thing”
It was Jenni Schaefer in her book “Life Without Ed” who speaks about doing “the next right thing.”
If you slip up, it’s okay. Do the next right thing. Don’t let past actions dictate future ones. What’s done is done. Don’t dwell on it; keep moving forward.
Remember, recovery is about progress, not perfection.
6. Prioritize self-care before, during, and after Thanksgiving
Remember, you need to take care of yourself. There is nothing weak or selfish about doing this. Your mental health and recovery are what’s most important.
Take time over the weekend (especially directly before and after any events) to take care of yourself.
Read a book, take a bath, play with the dog, go for a walk; do whatever makes you happy and relaxed. You can also take some time to be with your body by meditating and doing some light stretching or yoga, and don’t forget mindful breathing (my favourite app for this is “Stop, Breathe, & Think“).
7. Acknowledge yourself and your progress!
Amidst everything else, don’t forget to acknowledge yourself. You’re doing it!
The very fact you are here, reading this article, is a win! You are already prioritizing your mental health and recovery, and that is a huge step forward from where you used to be. Remember this and acknowledge yourself for it.
You are making progress and no one and nothing (not even a holiday) can take that away from you.
You’ve got this!
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